Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Sixers are legit

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What you missed while rock climbing with your 2-year-old strapped to your back

Sixers 98, Bulls 82: The 76ers are legit. That fast start wasn’t the soft schedule, they are a quality squad.

Good ball movement will beat even the best defense, and that’s what the story was here. They have balance — five guys with 14 points or more, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young each had 19 — and you can’t defend it. They have a versatility, which let’s them select the matchup they want then pick-and-roll it all night. They don’t turn the ball over (but Chicago did). Philly controlled this game most of the way and the Bulls rested their starters the fourth quarter (Chicago was without Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton). Derrick Rose had 18, C.J. Watson had 20 off the bench.

Bucks 105, Heat 97: Miami scored 40 points in the first quarter — LeBron James had 23 alone (he finished with 40) — and the team shot 82 percent. Miami was up 16 points after 12 minutes. And the rout was on.

Except nobody told the Bucks. The Heat played their worst ball of the season in the final 36 minutes, particularly on the defensive end (although the turnovers were almost as bad). The Bucks to their credit didn’t just roll over. Milwaukee started the second half on a 13-2 run to make it close, then they started the fourth quarter on a 22-3 run to take a 17-point lead. Brandon Jennings had 20 points in the second half and had a monster game.

The Bucks made that entire run with Stephen Jackson on the bench, he only played in the first quarter (and got worn out by a hot LeBron). The Bucks now have beaten Miami twice this season.

Magic, 109, Wizards 103: After four straight losses Magic will take the win, even if they let the team with the worst offense in the NBA put up 103 on them. The Magic’s defense was bad (except on John Wall who hit just 1-of-12 shots but did have 10 assists). Their offense was good enough to counter it — Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson each had 23, J.J. Redick had 21.

Celtics 100, Raptors 64: If you type “what does a rout look like?” into Google, videos of this game should come up. Boston took over with a 16-1 run in the first quarter, Kevin Garnett played just 5 minutes in the second half.

Nets 99, Pistons 96: The Nets had the best player on the floor by far in Deron Williams, he had 10 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter. In a game like this — a bucket of slop — having the best player gets you the win.

Pacers 109, Timberwolves 99: The first half saw a display of what you can call good defense or bad shooting, depending on if you’re a glass half full guy or not. The second half was the Danny Granger show, as he had 27 of his 36 points after the break — plus a little dustup with Kevin love — to lead the Pacers to the win.

Thunder 95, Mavericks 86: The Thunder had their best defensive game of the season — Serge Ibaka le the way with 10 blocks and the OKC defense held the Mavericks to 35.7 percent shooting on the night. That was the story. Russell Westbrook had 12 of his 33 in the fourth quarter.

Suns 120, Hornets 103: Steve Nash returned after missing several games with a thigh injury and exploded for 30 points and 10 assists to lead Phoenix to a win.

Spurs 99, Rockets 91: Houston led by as many as 19 and seemed in control until an 11-0 run made it close midway through the third. San Antonio closed the game on a 12-2 run to get the win. Tim Duncan had 16 third quarter points to lead that charge and Tony Parker had 11 in the second half as well (they were the only Spurs in double figures for the game). The Spurs spread the floor with shooters in the second half and with them knocking down shots the Rockets could not keep up.

Trail Blazers 112, Bobcats 68: Man, the Bobcats are terrible. Just awful. It’s really hard to describe.

Clippers 107, Jazz 105: The Clippers have beaten Denver in Denver, Oklahoma City, and now Utah in Utah within a week. They are legit and getting better each game. The Clips executed better down the stretch, thanks in large part to Chris Paul, who had 12 of his 34 in the fourth quarter and was masterful. Blake Griffin had 31 points, 14 boards and three blocks. Al Jefferson had 27 for the Jazz, who got a good amount of points but could not stop the Clipper offense, which is a juggernaut.

Second chance points, clutch LeBron defense earns Lakers win to go up 3-1 on Denver

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It’s a simple and obvious truth about any basketball game: The team that shoots better usually wins.

The Denver Nuggets shot 50.6% in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, including 10-of-28 from three (leading to a true shooting percentage of 62%). The Lakers shot 47.5% overall and 10-of-30 from three (a true shooting percentage of 59.7%). The Nuggets shot better Thursday night.

However, the better shooting team does not win when it gets crushed in another key area.

The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40.4% of their missed shots — including at three critical possessions in crunch time — and scored 25 second-chance points to Denver having six. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting to the free-throw line 28 times — Denver as a team had 23 free throw attempts — and LeBron playing fantastic defense down the stretch on Jamal Murray, and a team can overcome a shooting deficit.

The result was the Lakers holding off a resilient Denver team to win 114-108, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Saturday night.

While the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down on the Jazz and Clippers, this series feels different — Denver may have run out of miracles. The way the Lakers closed out this game showed why the Lakers will not go the ways of Jazz and Clippers.

Once again, Davis was the best Laker on the floor, scoring 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting plus playing strong defense (his light rebounding numbers, five in this game, are overblown because the Lakers as a team are rebounding well).

But there are two key reasons the won the Lakers the game — two critical reasons they were able to hold off a Denver comeback when the Jazz and Clippers faltered in similar situations:

• The Lakers were dominant on the offensive glass, as mentioned above. They got a second chance on four out of 10 missed shots (the league average is about 26-27% of missed shots become offensive rebounds). Dwight Howard was doing it early, Davis was doing it late (plus Rajon Rondo had a critical one), but the Lakers getting a second chance to score and run off some clock down the stretch changed the game.

• LeBron James asked to guard Jamal Murray down the stretch — in the final five minutes of the game Murray was 0-of-3 shooting.

“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it…” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said postgame. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until ‘Bron took that assignment.”

Vogel isn’t kidding. Murray was torching the Lakers, getting into the lane, and finding a way to finish — including maybe the best layup of the playoffs so far.

Murray finished with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but LeBron held him mostly in check down the stretch (Murray did hit four free throws).

LeBron also had a strong game despite his jumper not falling because he hunted mismatches, throwing the Denver defense into a scramble, plus LeBron commands a double team when he gets the ball at the elbow or on the block and that opens things up.

Another key for Los Angeles was a great first half from Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half while keeping the ball out of Jokic’s hands. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points.

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter, limped around on it, stayed in the game and made some plays down the stretch. A slowed Davis would be a reason for concern for the Lakers.

“My ankle feels fine,” Davis said postgame. “I’ve got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to where it is, but it’s good enough to play. I rolled it pretty bad, but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

If Denver is going to shock the world, it needs to keep Paul Millsap and his defense on the floor more, then the Nuggets need Gary Harris and other bench players to step up with big moments.

The Nuggets also need to find a way to slow LeBron and Davis. There may not be an answer to that question.

Watch Jamal Murray hit insane hand-switching layup around LeBron

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Are. You. Kidding. Me.

You are not going to see a better layup these playoffs than this one by Denver’s Jamal Murray, going around LeBron James near the end of the first half of Game 4.

Murray went up thinking dunk, had to change his mind because of LeBron, brought it down, went around him, and spun it in off the glass. Insane. It had some people on Twitter referencing the legendary Michael Jordan hand-switching shot. Not sure I’m willing to compare this Murray shot to a layup that helped launch a dynasty, but it’s close.

Murray had 16 in the first half but the Nuggets trailed at the break 60-55 in a high scoring first half. Anthony Davis had 19 to lead the Lakers.

Former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell “sad, angry, disgusted” with Breonna Taylor decision

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NBA players — like large swaths of the United States — are shaking their heads at the decision not to prosecute the police sho shot Breonna Taylor in her home. That includes LeBron James, who said the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Now former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell has spoken out on the issue.

View this post on Instagram

We’re Sorry Breonna😔🤦🏾‍♂️

A post shared by Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) on

The hate and racism in too many of the responses to that Instagram post highlight the injustice and additional hurdles Black people in America have to clear every day.

Louisville has faced a night of protests and backlash to the decision by the grand jury, which included the two police officers getting shot (they both survived).

 

Report: Bulls paying Billy Donovan $6 million-plus annual salary

New Bulls coach and former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf just spent the NBA hiatus – at least if you looked beyond “The Last Dance” itself – getting dragged for not spending enough to give Michael Jordan another year of title contention in Chicago.

Paying to hire Billy Donovan is a way for Reinsdorf and the Bulls to repair their reputations.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I’d be surprised if all four years are fully guaranteed. Coaching contracts of this length usually contain a team option or two.

But that’s still a hefty salary. Especially in these times. Especially considering it was believed the Bulls would keep Jim Boylen for financial reasons.

Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering him a new contract. He likely knew he could get more elsewhere.

Credit Chicago for being the team to spend. The Bulls needed a solid coach after Boylen and Fred Hoiberg.

Donovan won’t solve all Chicago’s problems, but he should help on multiple fronts. This upgrade costs nothing but Reinsdorf’s money, which every Chicago fan is perfectly willing to spend.